A look at the authoritarian world Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin hope to create |
I wanted this column to focus on Elizabeth Economy’s important new book, “The World According to China,” which outlines Xi Jinping’s vision for China’s future dominance in the world.
This book is important because it illuminates the ways in which Xi’s China aims to shape a “radically transformed” international order – by force and by other means.
But I have to take a little detour to comment on President Joe Biden’s ominous slip-up on Wednesday about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine – because what happens between Moscow and Kyiv is bound to affect Xi’s future moves. Jinping.
Biden appeared to give Russia the green light to attack Ukraine as long as it was not a full-scale invasion, saying that if it was “a minor incursion”, the allies might not agree on how to react. The White House later tried to walk back its comments, saying any invasion would prompt a swift and united allied response.
Still, Vladimir Putin is highly unlikely to stage a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as he wants to avoid heavy Russian casualties. A short, brutal strike is much more likely to degrade the Ukrainian military followed by a rapid Russian withdrawal. Or even a massive cyber and offshore missile attack on military targets without invasion. The point would be to show that a disunited West cannot or will not prevent Ukraine from being pushed back into the Russian orbit.
Yet, as Economy writes, this is exactly Xi’s modus operandi, an effort to establish a dominant Chinese sphere of influence across Asia, while undermining US alliances in the region. Putin’s success in coercing Ukraine will reverberate in Beijing.
Indeed, Beijing has accelerated its efforts to seize what it claims to be its sovereign lands. Many Americans know of Beijing’s designs on democratic Taiwan. But fewer Americans are aware of China’s plans for islands claimed by Japan, undersea gas and oil claimed by Indonesia, territorial waters claimed by five countries bordering the South China Sea and the land border territories in India and Bhutan.
China has been chipping away at restoring its “sovereignty” over these territories, taking land and seizing atolls in the South China Sea which it is turning into military bases – without any serious pushback from its side. Washington or its Asian allies. Beijing has shown total disregard for international legal judgments that are not in its favor.
So if Putin can crush Ukraine via cyberattacks and missiles without a fierce and united response from NATO, why shouldn’t Xi imagine he can soon do the same in Taiwan?
China seeks to become the supreme power in East and Southeast Asia, writes Economy. Xi also aims to expand China’s sphere of influence well beyond Asia by using economic power to “induce and coerce into conforming to its vision”.
“In Xi’s vision,” she adds, in Foreign Affairs magazine, “a unified China would equal or surpass” the United States, become “the preeminent power” in eastern and southern China, control the seas from eastern and southern China. , and send the United States to retreat across the Pacific. Note: This vision is unlikely to happen anytime soon, but it cannot be ignored.
But even scarier is Xi’s use of China’s massive economic clout and technological advancements for coercive purposes. “Xi skillfully uses China’s economic power to induce respect for his vision,” writes Economy.
In Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (known as BRI), China has extended its influence across Africa, South America, Central Asia and, yes, Europe through massive infrastructure projects. These range from ports, railways and bases, to fiber optic cables, electronic payment systems and satellites.
Yes, as Economy notes, many developing countries are complaining about corrupt Chinese behavior and struggling to repay their debts to Beijing. But many security experts believe China will eventually convert defaulted loans for ports into appropriating potential military bases in strategic areas around the world.
Additionally, Beijing has massive investments in ports and other infrastructure around the Mediterranean (including a majority stake in the port of Piraeus in Greece), which gives it political clout when the European Union considers sanctions for the Chinese aggression.
Example: China exerted strong economic pressure on Lithuania because it opened a Taiwanese office (not an embassy) in Vilnius, warning even large multinationals not to invest in Lithuania for fear of being punished as well. The European Union has still not fully supported Lithuania against Chinese blackmail.
If you only read one chapter of the Economy book, read “From Bricks to Pieces”. When it comes to technology, China is in fierce competition to build “the new global tech backbone,” from satellites to global 5G systems for super-fast internet.
And China is pushing for new rules in multilateral institutions for the global internet and satellites that endorse its approach to state control of information flows. If Xi’s dreams were to come true, writes Economy, “the system of American alliances that have underpinned the international system for more than 70 years” would be dissolved “in favor of a proposed Chinese framework that would favor the control and repression of the State on individual freedoms, including the rules”. for global internet, cyber and security in space.
None of this is predetermined. But it all depends on whether Americans understand how our disunity encourages adversaries abroad. As “The World According to China” makes clear, Xi Jinping is eagerly taking advantage of American disarray.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers can write to him at: Philadelphia Inquirer, PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at [email protected]